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Hope to Die

Detective Alex Cross is being stalked by a psychotic genius, forced to play the deadliest game of his career. Cross's family—his loving wife Bree, the wise and lively Nana Mama, and his precious children—have been ripped away. Terrified and desperate, Cross must give this mad man what he wants if he has any chance of saving the most important people in his life. The stakes have never been higher: What will Cross sacrifice to save the ones he loves?

Widely praised by the greatest crime and thriller writers of our time, Cross My Heart set a jaw-dropping story in motion. Hope to Die propels Alex Cross's greatest challenge to its astonishing finish, proving why Jeffery Deaver says "nobody does it better" than James Patterson.

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Part One | SIXTEEN DAYS EARLIER...

Chapter 10

SENSING THE BED SHIFTING as a new weight compressed it, I came slowly to consciousness, feeling as if I’d gone to sleep only a few minutes before. But when I groggily opened my eyes, it was broad daylight and my beautiful wife, Bree, lay on her belly beside me, dressed for the gym. She was up on her elbows, her chin cradled in her hands. Tears clouded her eyes, but she was beaming.

“Sorry to wake you up, Alex. I know you got in late and the Mad Man Francones case and all. But I thought you’d want to know.”

I blinked dumbly, yawned, and said, “Know what?”

“Jeannie Shelton just called, from the lab?”

“Okay?” I said, glancing at the clock. Ten past nine. What ungodly time had I gone to bed? It had to have been after—

“Alex, the burned body in that old factory wasn’t Ava,” Bree said.

That was like guzzling a pot of French roast. I sat up, alert and jittery.

“But the identification, the necklace?”

“They ran Ava’s dental records against the burned girl’s,” my wife said. “Not even close to a match. Ava had congenitally missing teeth. The dead girl had a full set.”

Relief washed over me like a wave and I felt tears welling to match Bree’s. Ava Williams was still alive.

Nana Mama took Ava in when she was fourteen, an orphan and runaway from a foster home. She’d lived with us almost a year. For a time, life in our house seemed to have been good for Ava. Or at least it seemed that way to us. She’d bonded with Bree and seemed to tolerate the rest of us.

But then Ava had started hanging with the wrong crowd. We suspected drug use, maybe alcohol, and quicker and sadder than you’d think, she was gone, until a burned corpse was discovered in an old, abandoned factory in Southeast that was also a reputed hangout for junkies and the homeless. Ava’s silver bracelet, which she’d worn constantly, was on the dead girl’s wrist. So was a necklace my grandmother had given her. The news had been devastating.

“Isn’t that wonderful?” Bree asked.

“Better than wonderful,” I said, and wiped at my eyes. “But where is she? And who’s the dead girl?”

“Jeannie said no match on her yet. But Jane Doe is definitely not our Ava.”

Tired as I was, my mind has been conditioned over decades of police work to think a certain way, whether I want to or not. The relief I’d felt at learning that Ava was alive was replaced by a colder sensation as I considered the idea that the young runaway who’d found shelter under my roof could have killed another young woman, planted phony identification on her, and then set her on fire.

But because my wife and Ava had become so close, I said nothing.

“We have to find her,” Bree said. “Bring her home.”

I thought about Pete Francones and the other victims at the massage parlor and wondered how I was going to make time to search for Ava.

“Let’s start tonight if you get home at a reasonable hour,” Bree insisted.

“I don’t think there will be any reasonable hours for me for a long time,” I said. “The Francones case is going to be a media circus.”

“Already is,” she said. “And I get what a slam this is going to be for you, Alex. I really do. But don’t worry. I’ll start looking for Ava myself. When you can, you pitch in. Okay?”

I stroked her cheek, said, “You’re such a good person, Bree Stone.”

My wife kissed my hand, said, “You are, too, baby. The best man I know.”

Copyright © 2013 by James Patterson

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Read by Michael Boatman & Tom Wopat

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